Saswad is a town located 30 kms away from Pune city (and 17kms from Hadapsar).
We left Kothrud at around ten in the morning and it took us an quarter hour drive to reach the outskirts of Saswad.
Saswad is a town steeped in history. Its every nook and corner has its own story to tell.
Saswad was the place, where the first Peshwa from the Bhat family, Balaji Vishwanath, breathed his last.
As did Sant Sopandev, the brother of Sant Dnyaneshwar, who took his samadhi in this town and thus sanctified it.
This is the town that bears the samadhis (resting places for the ashes) of bravehearts like Baji Pasalkar and Godaji Jagtap who spilt blood to keep the Maratha saffron (flag) flying.
This was the town of the Peshwa’s aides like Sardar Ambaji Purandare, Sardar Pilaji Jadhav and Sardar Panse. Their dilapidated wadas (pedhis/small castles) still exist in this town .
In the close vicinity of Saswad lies the famous fort of Purandar (eulogised by the valourous deeds of the maratha martyr Murar Baji Deshpande) and the fort of Malhargad (probably the last fort built by the marathas).
But its the temples that we associate most with this town viz. the medieval temples of Sangameshwar, Changavateshwar, Bhairavnath,Nageshwar, Narayaneshwar, the Ekamukhi Datta mandir, and the most recently constructed Prati Balaji temple at Kapurhol (Kapurhol was the hometown of Dharau, the nursemaid of Sambajiraje, son of Shivaji), hardly 20 kms away from Saswad (It can be accessed from Pune Bangalore highway as well).
One has to pass through the famous mountain pass ,Dive ghat which connects Pune to Saswad.
The journey through Dive ghat was particularly pleasurable. The monsoons had just arrived and had sprinkled greenery all over the region. I realised that the roads which were once quite narrow and steep had been widened through some recent construction activity and the traffic (especially the plying trucks) had quite easened out.
Saswad is situated at the end of Dive ghat and at an higher altitude from Pune city.
Towards the end of the Dive ghat I noticed that a small crowd had parked their cars alongside the road and were gazing down below the ghat. Curiousity led us to follow suit.
As I enquired I was told that one gets a vantage view of Mastani Talao (Lake) from this spot. I had read about the Mastani Lake and hastened to have a look.
I was told by an bystander that Mastani Lake was built by Punyashlok Ahilyabai Holkar, the dowager queen of Indore. But I wondered how it had been named after Mastani, the beautiful muslim wife of Peshwa Bajirao I ,who fluttered the maratha flag in the north. ( However after more enquiries I was informed that it had been built by Peshwa Bajirao I himself and that explained the Mastani link).
I clicked a few photographs from the place. The Mastani Lake is an artificial lake running in a few acres and is surrounded by a circular stone wall .
In the midst of the wall one sees a small temple. The lake was surrounded by lush green fields and provided a pleasant sight.
As I drove further, I passed through the concrete habitation of Saswad. I took a right towards the road that goes to the Purandar fort.
Hardly half a kilometer away I encountered the Sangameshwar temple. It was built across a canal which was said to be the confluence of rivers Karha and Chambli.
There is an immediate left (U turn) from the bridge which takes one through a narrow road, towards the Sangameshwar temple.
One passes the Karhadevi temple and the Balaji Vishwanath samadhi (something which I saw after seeing Sangameshwar to my hearts content) as we reach Sangameshwar.
The Sangameshwar temple is built over a stone ghat. We climbed a few stone steps to reach the temple.
Just at the entrance of the temple was this beautifully ornamented stone Nandi idol, albiet damaged at the face.
The temple appeared to have been painted in a unique colour (creamish orange?). The colour ofcourse appeared worn out and I figured that no painting has been done in the recent past.
As it is, I am not in favour of old historically dated temples being painted, as I believe that they ought to be preserved in their original form.
The Sangameshwar temple is atleast 12-13th century.
There is an huge ornate Nandi in the ardhamandapa porch .The porch ceiling is further supported by wide layered columns.
Each having a idol of Lord Ganesha, the elephant god of wisdom and Lord Hanumana, the monkey god of streangth.
There is a intricately carved Ganesh door frame between these two devkoshtas, which leads you to the sabhamandapa (assembly hall). The sabhamandaps are often used for village congregations, functions and festivals.
The sabhamandapa (which can be termed as an antarala or vestibule in this case) is again very splendid with carved columns, an floral hollow ceiling and the typical tortoise carved on the floor.
The tortoise symbolises the control over ones passions and can also be called the Kurma avatar , one of the dashavatars of Lord Vishnu in a tortoise form.
After the sabhamandapa, is a dark cellar which constitutes the garbhagriha (sanctum). It houses the swayambhu (natural form) Shiva Linga, the phallic representation of Lord Shiva. I chanted ‘Har Har Mahadev’ (Hail Lord Shiva) and bowed in obeissance before the Lord almighty.
The temple’s shikhara is composed of several spires surrounding the main spire which is a bulbous dome with a finial and built in the devali style whereas the main vimana/mulaprasada (superstructure) which adorns the gabhara section is built in the nagara style and is taller compared to the other spires and more decorated. The vimana signifies reaching out to God.
There are figurines of various deities carved over it.
Unlike the portion from (and below) the entablature which is made from stone, the shikhara portions are made from lime and gypsum (perhaps coated over the brickwork) and are completed with stucco work.
The shikhara work seems to be more Peshwa-kaalin i.e post 18/19th century (Peshwas were the prime ministers of the Maratha kings of the region) . The same is seen in the adjoining minor temples as well.
The temple has some admirable deepamalas which stand tall in the green background.
These deepamalas have several stands meant for deepas (lamps) that can be placed on them, during festivals.
There is also a Tulsi vrindavan (Tulsi / Basil is the sacred plant having medicinal properties found outside evry hindu home and temple) which has a small Shivalinga in one of its niches.
On the left hand side, I found some stairs leading down to the ghat (stepped platform/embankment across a pond or a river) below.
We could see the river stream amidst the green vegetation. There was also a small bridge made across the stream .The view was indeed scenic.
Across were two temples facing each other. One being the earlier mentioned minor temple (Which also turned out to be a Shiva temple with a ornate nandi standing guard outside the temple).
Facing it was another temple. We didn’t go inside as some village folks had already crowded around it.
Towards the extreme left we also found some more minor mandir like structures (or were they samadhis?). As we were in a hurry to see the other temples around Saswad, we left these uninvestigated.
While climbing back I noticed an arcade like structure. It was probably constructed as a resting room for the devotees.
Once outside the temple I expressed my desire to see the samadhi sthal of Peshwa Balaji Vishwanath.
I found the entrance was locked. Some bystanders told me that the keys are available in the house next door. I went over there and requested the people to lend me the keys, so that I can pay my respects to the first Peshwa. They were kind enough to agree.
As soon as I opened the gate, I found that some local kids on the pretext of showing me around had accompanied me inside. But once they were inside, to my horror, they busied themselves, plucking roses from a beautiful garden inside. I severely reprimanded them , but to no avail. They had already pocketed a few roses and fled away. I now realised why the samadhi sthal was kept in a locked state.
I paid my respects at the samadhi which was a huge rectangular stone and cement construction, perhaps placed over the Peshwas ashes and relics .
I noticed a signboard which stated that the land for the samadhi sthal was donated by Sardar Purandares descendents and was managed by the Parvati Devdeveshwar sansthan.
The next stop was the Bhairavnath temple. It seemed to be under renovation. It had a huge stone wall fortifying it. We went past a old wooden door which appeared newly painted in blue.
We were particularly impressed by a coloured wooden structure that formed the porch. The sabhamandap was made in stone and had the Bhairavnath idol in the gabhara.
I prayed before the idol before moving to inspect the temple.
The wall has a arcade aisle alongside it which serves as a resting chamber and a huge nagarkhana above the door way.
We prayed before every idol and afterwards clicked photographs around the temple.
As we came outside we saw some deepamalas, though of a smaller size, outside the doorway.
Next to the Bhairavnath temple lies the Purandare school, which had beautifully carved woodwork on its door.
Behind the Bhairavnath temple lies the Purandare wada, which was once the grand residence of Sardar Ambaji Purandare, an close aide and dewan to Peshwa balaji Vishwanath and his son Bajirao I. The wada was built in 1710.
Today all that remains of the wada are its tall stone walls. The monuments inside are all in a dilapidated state. The main entrance has a imposing wooden door with iron spikes (meant to prevent elephant attacks in the medieval times) protruding outside. The gate is flanked by two gigantic bastions wich appeared still intact.
There is also a Ganesh mandir which is a part of the wada.
After taking our blessings from the God of wisdom, we proceeded to our next sight i.e Changavateshwara temple.
This temple was said to have been built by the famous 'hatyogi' Sage Changadev. A Hatyogi is a person prone to performing severe penances to attain God and wisdom.
Perhaps you recollect the folklore of Sage Changdev and Sant Dnyaneshwar.
It so happened that the news of Sant Dnyaneshwars miracles had reached the ears of Sage Changdev.
Sant Changdev was therefore curious to meet Sant Dnyaneshwar ,moreso to verify the facts for himself.
He proceeded to meet him with his huge entourage of disciples, holding a snake in his hand and riding a tiger, in full pomp and splendour.
When Sant Dnyaneshwar heard that the great sage was coming down to meet him, he said to his siblings that the sage being elder in age, they ought to go forward and greet him themselves. Dnyaneshwar also thought that if the great sage had come down to meet them on a tiger, they too ought to have a suitable vehicle.
So Sant Dnyaneshwar chanted a few mantras (holy words) and lo, the wall over which they were sitting, ascended up in the air. Thus Dnyaneshwar flew with his brothers and sister all the while sitting on the wall.
Sage Changadeva was so amazed by this miracle, that this aged sage fell at the feet of the teenaged Sant Dnyaneshwar and thereafter became his disciple.
This temple was further renovated by Sardar Purandare and since belongs to his descendents.
The temple itself is located in a picturesque green grove that has a small stream running across it.
The temple is fortified by a stone wall. There are steps leading you up to the temple.
I found a striking resembelence between its construction and the one at Sangameshwar, especially the column structure.
Fortunately, except for the shikhara, this temple is not painted .
The walls are replete with beautiful carvings , especially on the pillars. I came across this vanar (monkey) sculpture, a mor (peacock) carving, a sharabha (mystical half bird half beast with magical streangth), a vyaal or a tiger carving, dancing apasaras, wrestling etc.
All these carvings seemed to tell a story from the Indian mythology (e.g vaanars or monkeys are associated with Ramayana).
The gabhara was dark and had this huge Shivalinga visible only by the small glimmer generated by a lamp. I dropped down on my knees and prayed before it with folded hands. I spent a few moments in the solitude of the sanctorum before proceeding to move around the temple.
There was the Gomukh (cow head) spout, to drain out water from the temple.
The temple walls were corrugated (just as in the other Saswad temples) with elaborate carvings . There was an vacant aedicule in the central pilaster, which earlier may have contained an idol.
I spent some time in the serenity of this temple, admiring the beauty around, the green trees, the vales, the flowing water and the blue sky.
Then we proceeded for out next destination which was the Narayanpur Narayaneshwar temple. It is at a distance of twelve kilometeres from Saswad.
This is again a hemadpanthi temple with beautiful engravings on the walls.
The door frame has figurines of deities carved at its base. (To my irritatation it had been coated with white lime).
After taking leave of this beautiful temple, we were thouroughly famished and did some pait puja (worshipped the stomach) after the ishwar puja (worshipping the gods).
Alongside the Narayaneshwar temple lies the Ekamukhi Datta mandir. Barring my mother who made a quick visit inside, we preferred prayed at the temple from outside as the temple appeared unusually crowded on that day .
We were also told of the Sopandev samadhi in the vicinity (of Nageshwar mandir). But time was becoming the constraint. Moreover my folks were more keen on Prati Balaji Mandir.
Sopandev was the brother of Sant Dnyaneshwar, the teenage saint and social reformer (mentioned earlier) who attained salvation at a very tender age. Subsequently each of his siblings left their earthly abodes through nirvana, Sopandev being one of them, who took is samadhi at Saswad.
Our final stop was at the Prati Balaji temple. By now, it was almost evening.
Prati Balaji temple is constructed and managed by the Venkateshwara Hatcheries ltd and is said to be a replica of the famed Tirupati Balaji temple. It is located at Kapurhol, around 10kms further from Narayanpur.
One has to pass through a huge decorated torana (arched doorway) to enter the temple premises.
One first encounters this beautiful Ganesha temple. We took our blessing there before proceeding further.
The Prati Balaji Temple was magnificent to say the least.
It had this huge Dravida styled shikhara replete with rows of nasis and gavakshas placed one above the other. Each nasi houses a figurine.There are ornate gopurams alongside.The other spires were made in the Vesara style. The entire wall structure is unfortunately covered with tarpaulin and robs the temple of its beauty.
Even photography is not allowed inside the temple .
We could just click the small Kubera temple at the doorway besides taking photographs of the main temple from a distance. We had to surrender our cameras and cellphones at the entrance before proceeding further. There are security guards everywhere who check you at several points. So incase anyone feels that he can sneak in a camera inside, its not worth it.
But once you are inside the temple your dissappointment goes away.
Prati Balaji is one of the most beautiful temples from the inside. Every wall has a story to tell with figurines carved on every corner.
I must say the temple is very clean and very well maintained so unlike other temples in Maharashtra.
After taking the darshan at Balaji temple,we realised that it was dusktime.
We had our tea at a nearby restaurant and retraced our path back to Pune.
Text and Photographs : Abhijit Rajadhyaksha